Unchain My Heart

“Fuck!” I yelled, slamming the mouse onto my desk. It had been mere moments since tickets went on sale for the Alice in Chains reunion show at Bowery Ballroom, and already it was sold out. I’d only seen them twice before singer Layne Staley rode a speedball into the great beyond in 2002, so I was not missing this show. But with the band not being signed to a label, there was no guest list to get on, no publicist to call. Sure, I’d hung with guitarist Jerry Cantrell a few times over the years—even shot some pool with him and hooked him up with a fat nug once in Austin—but it’s not like I had the guy on speed-dial. I had to think.

I started Googling my ass off, and after half an hour I finally hit pay dirt—the opening band was Rye Coalition. It seems the Jersey City-based powerhouse had been handpicked by Cantrell himself to play the opening slot of the New York gig. I’d known the Rye guys ever since I’d moved to JC a few years back, so I got in touch with drummer Dave Leto. It turned out even they didn’t have a guest list—but after some bribing, begging and BBD-slinging, he agreed to make me his plus-one. Bingo—I was in.

Sure enough, the second I walked through the door, the first people I saw were Leto and guitarist Herb Wiley at the downstairs bar. To show my gratitude, I bought them a round.

“I first saw Alice in Chains in like 1991, opening up for Van Halen. I think I was 14,” recalled Wiley over a beer. “When Dirt came out, I lost my shit. There was a while when that album was all I listened to. I’d get really high, put on my headphones and be like, ‘Whoa…’”

The Coalition hit the stage around 8 and churned out a blistering set of humor-infused, AC/DC-style cock-rock, including the hilarious “Between An I-ROC And A Hard Place,” from their latest album, Curses, and their classic “Paradise By The Marlboro Light.” When they finished, I headed for the balcony, where I found my friends Kenny Hickey and Johnny Kelly of Type O Negative. Kenny was pretty tight with Cantrell and had been back in the dressing room with him most of the night. We started discussing what qualities we thought made AIC one of the most profound and unique bands of our generation.

“They know all the rules, so they can break them perfectly,” he explained. “They do this thing musically where they go from the unison into the fifth. Sabbath used that, too—it’s dissonant; not many bands can pull it off. Musically, it’s incorrect, but if you do it right, it works.”

Soon the wait was over and Chains took the stage. To my surprise, new vocalist William Duvall was excellent. He sounded enough like Layne to keep true to the sound without falling into the imitation trap. Cantrell’s playing and vocals were sheer brilliance as always, and the set list was awesome: aside from their usual MTV fare, they did some less-played favorites like “Junkhead” and “Love, Hate, Love.” When they launched into “Angry Chair” during the encore, Kenny gave me the inside scoop about the title.

“I knew Layne’s tech, and he told me Layne had this chair in his house that was surrounded by like a hundred used needles. Apparently, when he was done shooting up, he’d throw them into the floor like darts. That was the ‘Angry Chair.’”

On my way out, I bumped into the Rye guys again outside by their van.

“Dude—it’s the craziest thing!” yelled Wiley. “When I was parking across the street earlier, I saw a dude walking a 3-legged dog! [There’s a three-legged dog on the cover of the last Chains album]. I couldn’t believe it! The irony is, without Layne, the band is like that dog now—but with a pretty good prosthetic leg, I guess.”

Here’s to the dog days fellas.

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